One week into the new NFL season, the Cleveland Browns are prepared to deal one of their several talented running backs.
With a veritable stable of workhorses in the backfield, the Browns have appeared destined to part ways with one of their playable rushers at some point this season. For a good while, it looked as though Kareem Hunt might be the one to find himself on the trade block. He voiced displeasure with his contract in August, asking Cleveland to grant him a new one or trade him to a team that would.
The Browns didn’t bite, however, and the subsequent events of Week 1 decreased significantly the chances that Hunt is going anywhere. Cleveland’s RB2 racked up 46 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries to go along with 24 receiving yards and another touchdown on four receptions. Meanwhile, D’Ernest Johnson, a breakout performer for the Browns last season and the presumed RB3 heading into 2022, was placed on the inactive list behind Hunt, starter Nick Chubb and fifth-round rookie draft pick Jerome Ford.
The demotion is less an indictment on Johnson’s talent — considering the Browns just signed him to a one-year, seven-figure contract during the offseason — and more a commentary on the depth of excellence in Cleveland’s offensive backfield. But it does leave Johnson on the outside looking in, as fifth-string running back Demetric Felton has secured regular work as the leading return man on special teams.
The most logical option for the Browns is to trade Johnson to a team in need of a running back with starter-level upside. As fate would have it, the San Francisco 49ers became such a team during their September 11 loss to the Chicago Bears.
49ers Trade Candidate for Browns’ RB Johnson After Week 1 Injury
“49ers’ RB Elijah Mitchell is expected to be sidelined about two months with the sprained MCL that he suffered Sunday at Chicago, per league sources,” Schefter tweeted Monday.
Mitchell’s exit leaves an opening at the top of the Niners’ depth chart, which could be filled via a trade for Johnson.
The brunt of the rushing burden will otherwise fall to fifth-year pro Jeff Wilson Jr. While Wilson has been productive in spurts over the course of his career, rushing for 600 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020, he struggled with injuries of his own last season. Wilson appeared in just nine games and earned four starts, tallying 294 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 79 carries.
Johnson, on the other hand, has less mileage and was more durable last season. He put up 534 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 100 carries while appearing in all 17 games, per Pro Football Reference.
Running backs don’t exactly demand a premium price on the trade market in the contemporary NFL, but a player of Johnson’s caliber filling a significant need for a presumed contender in the NFC is worth in the range of a fifth-round draft pick, should a deal begin to materialize.
Browns Open to Trading Johnson After Week 1 Inactive Status
Whether it is a fifth-round selection or some other form of compensation, the Browns are open to dealing the running back for the right price.
Brad Stainbrook of the Orange and Brown Report on Monday, September 12, reported that while there is no trade in place at the moment, Cleveland considers Johnson movable because of the depth they have at the position.
“My understanding is there was no trade close for Johnson making him inactive. However … the team is open to trading him,” Stainbrook wrote. “Browns viewed Chubb, Hunt and Ford ahead of Johnson this week.”